Climate change has and will continue to present challenges of unprecedented magnitude and complexity, the likes of which our species has never confronted before. I say this often to myself, and only lately, after being honored as the 2019 VT State Teacher of the Year, have I begun to say this out loud to other people. So much of my career is caught up in legacy and seniority, and I was nervous to speak my thoughts out of fear of being written off as another crackpot do-gooder who would burn out or “come around” soon enough after a couple of years doing the day-to-day job of teaching. Seven years in and one massive school change effort later, I now see that the issues related to climate change are too large and daunting to keep my thoughts unspoken for such a selfish reason.
The only realistic way we will be able to come to terms with global climate change is by explicitly teaching the next generations how to identify, practice, and master the use of transferable skills. In my community, we call these skills Graduation Expectations (GX’s). They are:
- Communication (Written and Oral)
- Critical Thinking
- Culture and Community
I often find that these skills get thrown around indiscriminately in conversations without any real weight because they seem so subjective, so very “fluffy” compared to the content standards we are familiar with. For example, the Pythagorean Theorem is the same wherever you go, and to some people, it exists irrespective of their selves. But creativity? Now that feels like it could be a different thing to different people, and a very personal thing at that. Skeptics may even go so far as to say that it sounds like we are teaching aspects of personality, not unlike brainwashing.
In an attempt to bring some clarity, hope, and inspiration to what transferable skills really are, you may have noticed that I have linked Winooski’s own, community-created assessment rubrics for each GX above. Each rubric has dimensions that can be directly planned for, practiced, and assessed in large scale projects. They anchor every learning opportunity that is offered in our school, providing our students with multiple chances to become proficient at, yes, understanding who they are. My hope is that students leave with the wherewithal to encounter and overcome difficult situations through their true understanding of what it means to be human – that we have a brain that contemplates, grows, and changes itself. And because we can mold our selves for the better, together we can certainly do the same for the world.
In the end, this understanding of our selves and the skills we all share is paramount to overcoming the issues of climate change, because the issues of climate change are directly related to our collective activities. Only when we accept that these issues have human causes can we then find human solutions. Teaching transferable skills is how we get there.